History 291, Spring 2006

Final Exercise

Complete BOTH parts.  It would help if you submitted them as two separate papers, taking care to place your name and precept on each. The exercise is due on Monday, 22 May, at 3:00 in the History Department Office, 129 Dickinson Hall. Both parts of the exercise are "open book". You may refer to the readings and other course materials, along with your notes from lectures and precept. Since this is a take-home exercise, it falls under Academic Regulations rather than the Honor Code. Hence, it requires the statement "This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations" with your signature, attesting that you have read and understand the provisions set forth in Academic Integrity at Princeton.  

Part I (30%)

Following are six passages taken from the sources read this semester. Choose FOUR of them and for each identify the author and work and write a paragraph explaining the significance of the passage for the development of science in the 16th and 17th centuries. (Total length: 800 words)
  1. Thus nature, ever perfect and divine, doing nothing in vain, has neither given a heart where it was not required, nor produced it before its office had become necessary; but by the same stages in the development of every animal, passing through the forms of all, as I may say (ovum, worm, foetus), it acquires perfection in each.  These points will be found elsewhere confirmed by numerous observations on the formation of the foetus.
  2. And thus Nature will be very conformable to her self and very simple, performing all the great Motions of the heavenly Bodies by the Attraction of Gravity which intercedes those Bodies, and almost all the small ones of their Particles by some other attractive and repelling Powers which intercede the Particles.
  3. I could set out here many additional rules for determining in detail when and how and by how much the motion of each body can be diverted and increased or decreased by colliding with others, something that comprises summarily all the effects of nature.  But I shall be content with showing you that, besides the three laws that I have explained, I wish to suppose no others but those that most certainly follow from the eternal truths on which the mathematicians are wont to support their most certain and most evident demonstrations; the truths, I say, according to which God Himself has taught us He disposed all things in number, weight, and measure.
  4. But by far the greatest hindrance and aberration of the human understanding proceeds from the dullness, incompetency, and deceptions of the senses; in that things which strike the sense outweigh things which do not immediately strike it, though they be more important. ... For the sense by itself is a thing infirm and erring; neither can instruments for enlarging or sharpening the sense do much; but all the truer kind of interpretation of nature is effected by instances and experiments fit and apposite; wherein the sense decides touching the experiment only, and the experiment touching the point in nature and the thing itself.
  5. My purpose is to set forth a very new science dealing with a very ancient subject.  There is, in nature, perhaps nothing older than motion, concerning which the books written by philosophers are neither few nor small; nevertheless I have discovered by experiment some propoerties of it which are worth knowing and which have not hitherto been either observed or demonstrated ... for so far as I know, no one has yet pointed out that the distances traversed during equal intervals of time, by a body falling from rest, stand to one another in the same ratio as the odd numbers beginning with unity.

Part II (70%)

Write an essay of about 2000 words on ONE of the following topics. Be sure to support your argument by specific examples taken from the readings and lectures.

  1. One of the commonly identified features of the Scientific Revolution is the rise of experimental practice. According to Steven Shapin, scientists employed three "technologies" to further this approach to understanding nature: the material, the literary, and the social. Explain the meaning and significance of Shapin's argument and apply his analysis to two of the following readings: Descartes's Le Monde, Galileos Discourses and Demonstrations Concerning Two New Sciences, Query 31 of Newton's Opticks, Harvey's Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, Hooke's Micrographia, the Accademia del Cimento's Essayes of Natural Experiments.
  2. How is the work of Vesalius and Harvey (and the relationship between their work) illustrative or characteristic of patterns of investigation and thought found in other scientific fields during the Scientific Revolution, and in what ways does their work follow different patterns?  Do you want to speak of a "revolution" in the life sciences at this time?
  3. "To begin at the intellectual end, the Scientific Revolution was a transformation of our knowledge of the external world. It changed the questions we asked, the means we used to explore them, and the character of the answers." (Sivin, p. 544)
    Evaluate Sivin's assessment of the Scientific Revolution as a transformation of the questions, methods, and answers that comprise our "knowledge of the external world." You may choose to discuss changes in scientific activity in general or choose a particular path of inquiry (medicine, mechanics, etc.) on which to focus your essay.
  4. "He deserves not the knowledge of nature that scorns to converse even with mean persons, that have the opportunity to be very conversant with her."
    Robert Boyle, The Usefulness of Experimental Philosophy
    Who were the people "very conversant" with nature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and to what extent and how did their practical know-how become "knowledge of nature" in the sense meant by Boyle?

"This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations."